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TROUBLE BETWEEN NEW HAMPSHIRE AND NEW YORK.
The controversy between New Hampshire and New York over the lands of the present state of Vermont, then called “New Hampshire Grants,” was long and bitter. The sovereigns of England, by whom large grants were made, had little or no conception of the vast extent of this country. The charters of the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut gave their possessions as extending westward to the Pacific Ocean, although at that time the Dutch had settled along the Hudson River; however, there was this condition: — “Provided that these lands have not already been settled by some other Christian power.”
After the conquest of the Dutch possessions by the English, they were given by Charles II to his brother, the Duke of York, who was granted, according to the charter, “All lands extending from the west side of the Connecticut, to the east side of Delaware Bay,” which overlapped the lands of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The boundary between New York and Connecticut, and between New York and Massachusetts, was placed many miles west of the Connecticut River, because this territory had already been settled under grants from Connecticut and Massachusetts. The governor of New Hampshire took prompt measures to have his line extended in the same manner, but the governor of New York refused to acknowledge that any land west of the Connecticut belonged to New Hampshire; however, New Hampshire’s governor still continued to make grants of land in the disputed territory, and the settlers bought and paid for them. It is said that he became enormously wealthy from fees obtained by these sales.
To stop the granting of land by Wentworth, the lieutenant-governor of New York sent forth a proclamation stating that New Hampshire had no power to make grants, and he printed the charter given to the Duke of York to justify his statements. Finally the controversy was brought to the notice of the king by representatives sent from New York. They presented to King George a forged petition purporting to be from the people who had settled in the disputed territory, declaring that they preferred to be under the authority of New York rather than that of New Hampshire. Acting upon this petition, the king placed the boundary between New York and New Hampshire at the Connecticut River. With great injustice the men in authority in New York claimed that this annulled any action taken before by New Hampshire in regard to these lands, and that the settlers who had bought them from the crown under the authority of New Hampshire, would have to purchase them again under the authority of New York, although the king in 1767 declared that no grants whatsoever should be made by New York in the disputed territory.
Meeting for Organization. — Since the New York officers refused to recognize the titles held under grants from New Hampshire, the people determined to protect themselves, and for this purpose held a meeting at Bennington, Vermont, in order to devise means for the best way of resisting the efforts of those who would deprive them of their homesteads and lands. At this meeting they thoroughly organized a system of spying upon the New York deputies; no surveyor from that state could run his line, and no sheriff was able, however secret his approach, to make an arrest without resistance. Whenever a New York official became too zealous in performing his duty, the people had a playful method of capturing him and imprinting on his back with rods what they were accustomed to call “the beech seal.”
Difficulties Encountered by New York Officers. — The New York sheriffs labored under a great disadvantage, in that the common people of their state sympathized more with the settlers of New Hampshire Grants than they did with their own authorities.
Sheriff Ten Eyck, being required to serve a writ upon a resident of Bennington and suspecting strong resistance, called out the militia to the number of seven hundred fifty to assist him in making the arrest. The settlers, hearing of this, assembled three hundred men to oppose him. About twenty of them posted themselves in the house of the offender, while the remainder divided themselves into two parties and took their station on either side of the road, behind ridges which happened to skirt the highway at this point.
The sheriff with his men marched unsuspectingly into the ambuscade and ordered the people of the house to surrender, threatening to break down the door unless his order was complied with instantly. “Attempt it and you are a dead man,” came the reply. At this moment the ambuscading forces made themselves known, and displaying hats on the muzzles of their guns made a showing of twice their actual number. The rank and file of the “Yorkers” having no real relish for the business, and seeing the trap into which they had so nicely fallen, concluded that their presence was no longer needed, and without a shot being fired on either side, quietly withdrew, followed by the crestfallen leader.
The Green Mountain Boys. — Shortly after a military force was organized for the purpose of more effectually opposing the New York authorities, and the renowned Ethan Allen was chosen as leader. They took it upon themselves not only to discourage further activity on the part of the New York officials, but to rectify the mistakes which they had made in the past.
The proprietor of .a sawmill at Otter Creek had been deprived of his property by a force of New Yorkers under Colonel Reid, who claimed that the New Hampshire title, purchased in 1761, was of no value, and placed in charge of the property a tenant of his own. Ethan Allen, hearing of this injustice, with a company of Green Mountain Boys turned out the New York people and reinstated the original proprietor. This action greatly incensed Governor Tryon of New York and Colonel Reid. The latter, with a company of his Scotchmen (the colonel had formerly been in command of the Forty-Second, or Royal Highland Regiment) marched to Otter Creek, and after forcibly ejecting the proprietor, left in his stead a rugged Scotchman with orders to hold possession at any cost.
The Green Mountain Boys being informed of this last move on the part of the Yorkers, mustered a force and in no gentle manner ejected the Scotchman with his goods. He, although forced to yield by superior numbers, still insisted in broad Scotch that “wie twonty guid broad-swoards I would hae defended my mill tho’ ye had a hundred mon.” The Green Mountain Boys so admired his pluck that they offered him a large tract of land if he would join them, an offer, however, which he scornfully rejected.
Committees of Safety. — New York, finding that force did not serve her purpose, attempted to make friends with some of the prominent citizens by appointing them to office. To oppose this policy, committees of safety were assembled, who voted that no person was to be allowed to take any grant of land from New York, and that no one could hold office under her authority. For the violation of these enactments, the penalty was to rest with the decision of the court. The more common form of punishment was banishment from the colony, or the application of the renowned “beech seal,” already alluded to.
Sometimes the punishment was more grotesque than harsh. In one instance, Dr. Adams of Arlington, who had openly sympathized with and aided the New York authorities, fell into the hands of the Green Mountain Boys. When brought before the court, he was sentenced to be hung for two hours in an armchair, beneath the sign of the famous Green Mountain Tavern, a hostelry noted as the starting place of many raids against the hated “Yorkers.”
The towns along the Connecticut slope being more peacefully inclined had acquiesced to the rule of New York and had taken out new grants under its authority. They were subject, however, to so many indignities at the hands of the New York officials that the people in this section became thoroughly aroused. The trouble reached a climax when New York refused to adopt the Articles of the Association of the American Colonies. In the neighboring commonwealth where the articles had been accepted, no royal courts were permitted to hold session. The people being heartily in sympathy with this movement, demanded that no courts should be held there, although they were nominally under the jurisdiction of the magistrates of New York.
THE CATAMOUNT OR GREEN MOUNTAIN TAVERN
The Westminster Massacre (1775). — Upon learning that the authorities had determined to hold court at Westminster and had assembled a body of militia to enforce their action, a party of about one hundred settlers, in order to forestall them, seized the courthouse the night before and determined not to leave until their claims had been heard. While here, they were fired upon by the militia under order from the sheriff. Two of the inmates were killed and several others severely wounded. The entire countryside was aroused by this action, and before the following morning more than four hundred men were on the spot ready to avenge the death of their neighbors. The sheriff and ringleaders were quickly seized and conducted to jail at Northampton, Massachusetts. The result of their trial was lost in the stirring times of the Revolution, but the outcome of the massacre was of great importance in preparing the way for the long struggle of independence that was to follow.